University of Missouri Extension partners with innovative national award-winning youth preparedness initiative, MyPI National

Instructors practice a chair lift

MyPI MO instructors practice chair lifts

This week in Columbia, Missouri at the University of Missouri Fire and Rescue Training Institute, the initial delegation of instructors within the Missouri Youth Preparedness Initiative, MyPI Missouri, completed a comprehensive certification and training workshop led by the MyPI National Coordination Team, and became the twentieth state to train instructors under the national project umbrella.  According to Conne Burnham, the MyPI Missouri Program Manager, and who serves as the Emergency Management State Specialist for University of Missouri Extension, “I’ve been in the emergency management and emergency response field for many years and realize that there are not enough emergency responders to take care of everyone who may be affected by a disaster.  The MyPI program gives educators the opportunity to train our youth in valuable skills that could help themselves, their families, and their community survive until professional responders arrive.” 

Added Burnham, “One particular component that really excites me about this project is the PREP + 6 service project; this component requires the student to assist their family and six additional families develop emergency kits and family communications plans.  If every family had an emergency kit and a communication plan, it could be life changing for many of our families and communities.  And our MyPI teens are being empowered to create that impact.  MyPI is a powerful preparedness program that enhances youth development characteristics as well.  Extension is actively engaged in youth development statewide; what better way to help your community and your state than by teaching youth valuable lifesaving skillsets.”

Over the next 16 months, MyPI Missouri will be offering this innovative and engaging youth preparedness program to teens who will assist families and communities across the state.  This program, based on a national award winning model delivered in Mississippi through the Mississippi State University Extension Service and Mississippi Citizen Corps, enhances individual, family, and community preparedness for disasters, while at the same time, strengthening youth leadership, communication skills, teamwork, decision making, self-esteem, civic responsibility, and empowerment, along with family communication and cohesion. “One of the underlying missions of MyPI National is to reboot youth preparedness across this country, to capitalize on the energy of our youth, and to set the new standard for how we engage our teens in sustainable preparedness endeavors as we move forward in the face of a variety of threats and hazards that we continue to see on seemingly a daily basis, regardless of geographic location.  From the large urban areas to the smaller rural towns, emergencies and disasters do not discriminate.  We have seen fantastic success for several years in Mississippi and have now begun to see the same impact within our partners under the MyPI National umbrella.  As our MyPI National team works with MyPI Missouri instructors, we will continue the process of fostering relationships and networks that will hopefully ensure the success of this program for years to come, which is yet another very achievable outcome and one that this great state and its citizens, families, and communities deserve,” said Dr. C. Ryan Akers, MyPI National Project Director and MyPI Mississippi Program Coordinator. 

Mississippi Citizen Corps State Program Manager and Lead Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) Instructor for MyPI National, Dave Nichols, added, “Delivering this three-time award-winning program in a state where disasters are commonplace just proves how necessary and important MyPI is to Missouri and the rest of the nation.  I look forward to seeing the positive impact MyPI has on teens, households, and communities across Missouri.”                    

MyPI Missouri is a component of the National Youth Preparedness Initiative, MyPI National, a partnership of 27 states and 2 US territories.  MyPI National Phase 1 began by delivering the MyPI model to teenagers across Nebraska, Hawaii, New Jersey, Washington, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi.  In September of 2017, MyPI National was awarded the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individual and Community Preparedness national award for “Outstanding Achievement in Youth Preparedness.”  Capitalizing on program success and momentum, MyPI National began a Phase 2 expansion of the program which enabled the inclusion of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, South Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, and the first US territory to be represented, Guam.  In 2018, in addition to winning FEMA’s national CERT award for “Preparing the Whole Community”, MyPI National received additional federal funding for a Phase 3 expansion that added Alaska, California, Delaware, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, and the second US territory to be represented, the US Virgin Islands.    

Regarding Missouri, Akers stated, “Our MyPI National Coordination team has literally travelled to all corners of the nation with this project.  This week, we were back in FEMA Region VII where we have several programs and work with professionals who are geographically situated similar to each other.  Given their close proximity and that they share similar hazards and risks, we hope to see some networking between them moving forward.  I can confidently say that the MyPI Missouri instructors have displayed fantastic levels of passion, engagement, and motivation that is characteristic of our most productive partners.  And the severe weather events that we witnessed across Missouri this week certainly underscore the need for those characteristics.  As a National training team, we always hope to entertain the level of discussions that clearly project the instructors are thinking long-term.  That was certainly the case this week and I believe this program has quite a bright future.  As the National Project Director, I can assert that this certainly makes administering this program and being a productive program incubator so much easier and more enjoyable when you have a cohesive unit that already has a vision for delivering MyPI.  Missouri teens, families, and communities are in for a treat on multiple levels due to the work of these great professionals and preparedness advocates.  Much like their colleagues across the nation, the instructors in Missouri truly exude a passion to change lives and to educate their communities, particularly their teens, through this program.  It was indeed a pleasure for the MyPI National team to be here in this beautiful state.  This initial cohort of instructors and Conne Burnham, the Program Manager, will prove to be a great asset for our overall program goals and will guide the state program with the motivation and zest that we have come to expect and that our program and stakeholders demand.  We are excited about this great partnership with University of Missouri Extension, and look forward to seeing the program become a true statewide outreach campaign.  It was quite clear among the National team members that once MyPI Missouri takes root, it will progress and flourish across the state in large part because of their efforts and dedication.”

Added Akers, “MyPI offers a tremendous, multi-faceted approach to youth preparedness with rich learning and leadership opportunities for teens and enhanced preparedness levels for families and communities.  There is a definitive focus and energy necessary as we move into the next phase of MyPI Missouri, where the real work is done and the real impact is seen. On a personal and a professional level, I look forward to seeing these new instructors respond to the challenge and become the catalyst for positive change and impact across this state.  It is clear from this week that the instructors have a strong passion for disaster education and preparedness, the development of their youth and safety of their families, and the livelihood of these communities, which is wonderful to see.  We expect a positive impact for all involved and will continue to work with the instructors, the Program Manager, and community partners to ensure its success over the long-term.”     

The MyPI model offers a flexible 5 to 10 week, three component program.  In Component A, teenagers will complete the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency-certified CERT training and corresponding modules focusing on Disaster Preparedness, Fire Safety and Utility Control, Disaster Medical Operations, Light Search and Rescue, CERT Organization, Disaster Psychology, and Terrorism and CERT.  In Component B, the Add-On Catalog features certification opportunities in CPR and AED usage, along with a technology track comprised of awareness programs focusing on HAM Radio, NOAA Weather Radio, Smoke Alarm Maintenance, and Smart Phone App and Social Media in Emergency Preparedness.  The Add-On Catalog also includes a disaster simulation, a School Safety program, an Extreme Weather Awareness program, and a Career Track that focuses on public safety, fire service, and emergency management careers.  The final element of the program, Component C, includes a comprehensive family and community service project entitled PREP+6 in which each participant helps develop emergency supply kits and emergency communication plans for their family AND 6 additional families or households. This component allows for significant enhancement in individual, family, and community preparedness and resilience.  To graduate from the program, students must complete all components.   

Becky Simpson, County Engagement Specialist in 4-H County Development in Daviess County, believes that Missouri teens need to be involved in a comprehensive program like MyPI in order to realize their potential.  According to Simpson, “Teens are often forgotten when community preparedness is discussed.  It is essential to recognize them as assets in their schools and communities.  MyPI will help our youth see and reach their potential and enable them to be vital members of their communities’ preparedness and resilience strategies.  They are our future, so we need them to understand and be engaged in preparedness.  This program is designed to engage them from the start.”

Simpson strongly encourages students to take advantage of this beneficial program due to the plentiful opportunities to better their communities through the service component and the educational opportunities related to preparedness and resilience.  According to Simpson, “I would strongly encourage our teens to be a part of this national recognized program to help themselves, their families and friends, and their communities.  Take advantage of this great opportunity to provide a valuable service and grow your leadership capacity.”  

Meridith Berry, Community Engagement Specialist in Community Economic Development in Grundy County, is among the newly certified MyPI Missouri instructors, agrees with Simpson in that the program truly gives students opportunities to make a positive, measurable impact on their communities and helps prepare families and youth for the future.  According to Berry, “Teenagers have an amazing capacity to make changes in the culture of a community.  By supporting youth in MyPI, we give them a voice in our communities and watch as they step up into leadership roles and help community preparedness efforts.  That’s one of the primary reasons I was attracted to MyPI as a program.  It focuses on the personal responsibility we all have in preparing ourselves and our families for an emergency.  I like that this program has the teens stepping into a focus on their extended families, friends, and neighbors to help them prepare.  We hope the disaster never comes, but if it does, those who are part of this program will be equipped.  Too often, local governments overlook the value teenagers bring to the community as active and concerned citizens.  Teens often feel that they have no voice or choice in the future of the community.  MyPI gives them a chance to actively impact the well-being of the families and individuals in the community.  This investment will help a community recover faster and be more resilient.  They will be empowered and can witness the impact they have on the people they help.

Berry also supports the notion that interested teens should actively pursue participation in MyPI.  Berry noted, “Participation in MyPI will provide students with career exploration, experience for college applications, and important skills for a resume such as teamwork and critical thinking.  They will build important skills that will make them valuable team members and that will enable leadership development.  MyPI will help build confidence and understanding of how first responders and emergency services work to keep our communities safe.  Additionally, students can earn 24 volunteer service hours when they successfully complete the class.  This vigorous program teaches some skills that teens do not get in school.  Many of these can prevent injury and perhaps save lives.”

The program not only relies on its trained instructor cohort, but it also enlists the assistance and advocacy of the first responder and emergency management community.   Nathan Bower, Forsyth County Fire Chief, indicated that MyPI is a proven model that has tremendous potential to positively impact preparedness on the individual, family, and community level by uniquely engaging, enabling, and empowering teens through life skills development and disaster preparedness skillsets that will help them take care of themselves, their peers, and their family members in everyday life and in the event of a disaster or emergency.  According to Bower, “MyPI will be beneficial by increasing hazard and risk awareness and enhancing individual preparedness.  The better our youth can be, the better our community will be with respect to whole community preparedness.  We need to change the behaviors of our youth in order to address the challenges that our risks and hazards present.  The first responder community would like to engage more youth in emergency services.  Volunteers are on the decline across the country and fewer youth seek out first responder careers.  We can utilize MyPI to promote the work that we do and perhaps motivate them to learn more about our services and perhaps find a new career interest and/or path.”

Michael Milam, an Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development in Livingston County, is also a newly certified MyPI Missouri instructor.  Milam strongly encourages adults with an interest in community preparedness as well as teaching and mentoring teens to consider becoming a MyPI Missouri instructor.  According to Milam, “If you are interested in fostering a positive impact in your community by investing in our youth, MyPI is an excellent opportunity for you.  These teenagers will be leaders in their schools and leaders in their communities.  These students want to make a difference and are very receptive to learning.  Meridith Berry agrees, “This is a program that will have a lasting impact on the communities that participate.  Youth who are surrounded by adults who make emergency preparedness a priority will likely model that behavior in their lives.  As an instructor, sharing your experiences, skillsets, passion, and time with the next generation is a great legacy.”

The partners in MyPI National are replicating the model created and delivered in Mississippi.  In 2014, the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative was named FEMA’s national award winner for Outstanding Youth Preparedness program. It also received an Honorable Mention recognition for “Preparing the Whole Community.” In 2015, MyPI Mississippi was named one of the first entities to be named an official Affirmer of the new National Strategy for Youth Preparedness Education. As such, MyPI is an engaged and recognized component of a nationally supported, progressive approach to preparing youth for emergencies and disasters.  MyPI National is also recognized as an Affirmer of the national strategy.

For additional information regarding MyPI Missouri, including areas of the state that the program will be delivered initially, please visit the MyPI Missouri website at or contact Conne Burnham, MyPI Missouri Program Manager at or 573.884.5254.  For more information regarding MyPI National, please visit the MyPI National website at or contact Dr. Ryan Akers, MyPI National Project Director at or 662.325.5914.  You may also reference both projects on social media platforms.  Facebook profiles can be found by searching “My PI Missouri” and “My PI National” respectively, and Twitter feeds can be found by searching “@MyPI_MO” and “@MyPI_National”.